The dedicated local reporter will be moving on to work for Boston.com
(Somerville Wire) – Julia Taliesin has been the Somerville Journal’s only full time staff reporter covering the city of Somerville since 2018. Now, she is taking new steps in her career. Taliesin will be leaving the Journal to join Boston.com’s night team as a staff writer, focusing on COVID-19 and telling data based stories. Reflecting on her time at the Journal, Taliesin said that her experience covering Somerville has been meaningful and fruitful.
“I think local news is about representing what makes a community a community, so in this case, what makes Somerville Somerville,” said Taliesin. “Also, remembering the journalist’s responsibility, which is accountability and transparency. I think it has to be both. I’ve always been someone who is really passionate about investigative journalism, and that’s part of why a lot of us get into the field; we want to make a difference. I learned that local news is about local government—it’s about reporting on the mayor, policing, trying to get sources and suss out things, if something is going wrong. But it is also about showing up at the local arts festival, highlighting local students. Being a local paper is about reflecting the community.”
Taliesin said that being a writer during the pandemic also presented new opportunities and challenges, as she went from being a local beat reporter to becoming a public health and data journalist overnight. City meetings became virtual, while Taliesin stayed abreast of all of the new COVID related information that was being rolled out, doing Zoom interviews, and becoming more proactive about reaching out to people. Because of the pace that news was occurring at, stories that she wrote might even be outdated by the next day.
“I was doing my best to document the pandemic, at every level I could think of, whether it was restaurants, artists, performers, small business owners of any kind, everything,” said Taliesin. “[I explored] its impact on the environment, its impact on councilors, on kids, mental health—just trying to think of who and how this is impacting and trying to write about it. We’re creating a record of this time in our community, which is literally history in action.”
While Taliesin is hesitant to call Somerville a “news desert,” the term that many academics have called cities that have deficient news ecosystems, she believes that it needs more reporters and coverage. She explained that citizen journalism could contribute to improving the system but that staffing is also critical.
“I do not want to devalue that work that my colleagues do and that I have done in the community, as an employee of the Journal and of Gannett,” said Taliesin. “… I believe that a city like Somerville, Medford, and Cambridge—which is also served by one full time journalist—in order to have comprehensive, equitable news coverage, needs a team of journalists, as well as a dedicated editor, to adequately serve the community. That doesn’t mean that the news gathering going on is bad; I just think that it’s not enough.”
Taliesin has written stories on a range of topics, including a polyamorous domestic partnership ordinance, COVID’s effect on businesses, and education. There are areas that she would like to see deeper coverage, however. Policing and civilian oversight are important subjects, and she hopes to see more reporting on the affordable housing crisis, as well. Climate resiliency and whether the city is truly on its way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 could use more attention. Finally, she would also be interested in seeing stronger coverage of everything that goes on within the City Council.
Joining Boston.com will be an exciting new opportunity, said Taliesin. She will be working with a smaller team, and her focus will be the Boston area. The job is also all digital, and Taliesin will no longer be a print journalist. The stories can be shorter, she will get to tell them differently, and she will be doing data presentation, timelines, graphs, tables, and polls. She is very interested in multimedia and is prepared for a shift in her reporting style. Looking at the impact that journalists can have, Taliesin said that she has faith in the future of news.
“I really hope that as a country and maybe broader—as a world—we figure out how to rebuild a strong, credible press, because I think the past few years with the pandemic and the politics of the last election have shown us how essential the press function is,” said Taliesin. “I think that is everything from a national TV broadcasting station to a town print newspaper. People need to be informed, and when people are informed, they make informed choices, whether it’s about vaccinations, or voting, or where the heck to get dinner. I don’t have the solutions, but I do believe that there are many, many people who are out there working for that and towards that, so the optimist in me is hopeful that we will get there, or at least get closer.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.